The true story of Bernard McNamara

My grandfather, Bernard McNamara came from a family of thirteen children and was born in Liverpool in 1888. His family, to escape misery, moved to Liverpool hoping to find work. Shortly after his mother died , he was only five years old. His father couldn’t take care of all of them, so he placed the youngest of which him and his brother John two years his senior. They found themselves with an old and cranky uncle. The old man would send Bernard to get the newspaper. Each time he would lecture, “If you buy candy with the change, don’t even bother coming back ! “. One day unfortunately he lost or was robbed of the money … So he dared not return.

He spent two years living on the street where his brother rejoined him, shortly after They stayed for two years near the docks sleeping in boxes, rummaging through trash and fighting with dogs. Although they had succeeded many times in escaping the patrol, they finally got caught. The van in which they find them-self leaded directly to the orphanage. The room where they slept was very large and about eighty kids were lying on mattresses on the floor. The orphanage was full and each child had only a potato per day. One evening a man came to talk to them of the life they could have in Canada. How much the country was beautiful … that they had just to stretch their hands to pick apples of the tree. So when the man asked:” who wants to go to Canada ” , Bernard stomach gurgled and he raised his hand.

Thus began his new life ; he crossed the Atlantic in the hold with the cows. Alone and permanently separated from his family. He was eleven years old when he arrived in Canada. The deal brought him to be a farm boy in a French Canadian exploitation near Montreal. On his first day the tone was set : hunger, deprivation, exhaustion. The hut they give him had no fireplace, so he slept in the barn with the cows during the snowy winters. He tried several times to escape and got caught up and severely punished.

One summer he escapes his duties to go to the village festival. There he discovers a friendly atmosphere and good food, something that he was often deprived. An itinerant priest notice him and wondered about his big appetite and lean silhouette. Moreover, Bernard’s face reminds him of his brother deceased some time earlier. The priest will investigate and discover the mistreatment suffered by Bernard. He convinces the peasant to let him go and recovers Bernard which has spent tree years working for free to pay the boat trip.


Not being able to keep Bernard with him on the road, the priest confided the boy to sisters in a convent. He, who had lost his mother so soon, will end up with twenty sisters nursing him. The Italians Carmelites will pamper him and give him an education. He will learn to read and write, Italian, French, English and Latin.

A few years later a bishop passes and he remarks the adolescent. Judging it indecent that the young man remains in a convent, Bernard finds himself sent at the seminary. He will study a few years and become a novice. By that time he is about 18 and several epidemics occurred in the early years of the twentieth century. The priests and novices will give the last rites to the dying. One day a widow with five children, dies of a tuberculosis, leaving her kids alone in the world.
” The Lord called her back ” the priest intones … This will assert his convictions : “ This can not be the will of God “ and he will leave the seminar.

He went to work in Montreal and on the way met his first wife, who unfortunately died a few months after the birth of their son John. Quickly he met my grandmother Margaret Hume and married her. She was a quiet and discreet woman who was a cook in London before she left Europe. He will continue to work as a laborer and his education will allow him to write the statutes of the first workers union in Canada . They will have four children: Bernard, Margaret, Eileen and Sheila.

In 1929 during depression days he is fired from the factory. Starting from then, he will work as a puncher in the tram, taking the opportunity to learn several new languages. Bernard will practice up to eight languages in the tram or with his workers friends with whom he will continue his work in the union action. He will retire to California joining his youngest daughter. He will receive a price for his contribution to the development of the workers’ union in Canada …he won’t go … In 1966, he died peacefully in his rocking chair on the veranda with all the little birds perched on him …

Of his three girls my mom Eileen, married a french man and came to Paris. Her older sister Margaret stayed in Montreal and the youngest sister Sheila when to live In the USA at Los Angeles. Now Sheila daughter Lisa and I would like to go meet together in Dublin to find some relatives.

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